In Hot Pursuit

The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves the one who pursues righteousness. — Proverbs 15:9, NRSV

I used to think being transformed by God’s grace was a passive act. Time after time, mistake after mistake, and prayer after prayer I would wait for that magic moment that I would no longer be subject to my bad habits. I believed there would be this “place” in life that would signal my spiritual maturity and official station as a disciple of Jesus.

Welp.

Needless to say, that is not the experience I have had, and I thank God for that. I was denying my agency in life, missing my part in God’s story, and setting myself up for failure in trying to hit a “moving target” of salvation that doesn’t exist. As the well-beaten Emerson quote says, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” and the same is doubly true for the life of faith in Christ.

Scripture speaks often of pursuit. The Scripture above from Proverbs expresses God’s approval for those who pursue righteousness. Psalm 34:14 encourages us to “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (verse 13). Jesus exhorts His followers to “strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). This theme of effort, pursuit, and striving is consistent throughout all of Scripture, and it is a vital lesson for us today.

The quality and holiness of our lives depend not on all we manage to achieve, but all that we decide to pursue with our whole heart. Faith is a journey that takes us to the end of our time on this earth. Salvation is the way in which we live, and not a static place to stand. If we spend our time chasing after accomplishments and accolades while remaining complacent in our faith life, we have veered off course and lost “the narrow path.” However, should we decide to pursue God in every moment, and if we see ourselves, each other, and all this world has to offer as sacred, we will be re-oriented toward God’s kingdom, and we will hasten its coming.

This is not a check-list, finish line kind of race. It is one of endurance, one that will have many obstacles and pit-falls, one that will sometimes involve us getting lost and needing to be re-calibrated. But it is also a journey of transformation. In making the effort to recognize what George Fox called “that of God in everyone,” and in striving to live a Christ-like life, we do actually change and grow in our connection to God. This in turn has a positive impact on those with whom we interact, creating a chain effect that makes the Kingdom of God a current reality.

We all have a part to play in God’s story. We all have the freedom to choose what to do with the love of God and the relationship He offers us. I pray that as we go out into this, we will choose to act on that love, honoring it in our thoughts, our words, and our various doings. In this way, we both pursue and live out our salvation.

Peace be with you!

 

Actually Choosing “Life”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live… — Deuteronomy 30:19, NRSV

I am assuming that many of you know about the recent anti-abortion legislation that has recently  been passed in Georgia, Alabama, and now Missouri. If not, hey, now you do. I’m sure many of you are celebrating it, and I am also sure many of you are furious about it. It’s a polarizing topic in that way (Captain Obvious strikes again!).

Unfortunately, though, the abortion debate is one that has pit us against each other in such a way that civil conversation about it is nearly impossible. I get it that it is an emotional concept, but let’s face it, the loudest voices of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocacy groups have a vested interest in fueling our emotional responses to this problem. After all, if we found a way forward together, things would actually have to change, and that is no good for the powers that be.

As a Christian, this debate is just a headache. Scripture and our tradition exhort us to make life-giving and life-preserving choices. For some people, this means simply voting pro-life (a misnomer) and moving on with their day. But is that really a comprehensive and helpful way to ensure the preservation of life and the improvement of its quality for our people?

Shifting gears, the idea that a woman has absolute autonomy over her body and whether or not she decides to bring life into this world is so strong that for some, morality need not enter into the discussion. It’s a personal, private decision that isn’t anyone’s business. Unfortunately, again, I don’t think this appropriately addresses the problem of why abortions are even necessary, and dropping the conversation altogether for the sake of “freedom” doesn’t seem like a healthy option.

Then there are people like me. Having gotten a girl pregnant in high school whose parents made her get an abortion, I can tell you that it is not a positive experience. No one skips into the abortion clinic and high fives everyone as if they are taking their life back. Part of this is due to the ignorant protesters outside, screaming “murder” at people who could just be getting regular OBGYN care.

To those protesters, thanks for your (non) help. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

The other aspect is that something has begun to take shape in this woman’s body, and removing that is not a light or easy decision, even if her parents aren’t forcing it. Needless to say, even with freedom of choice, most women will not be thrilled to have to make this kind of visit to a clinic, which implies that there is something… “off” about the procedure.

In fact, I would bet that most people (whether they pick the pro-choice or anti-abortion camp) would agree that a world without abortions would be ideal. So if that is the case, why all the screaming? Why not find a way forward that adequately addresses the problem?

From the Christian perspective, yes, the teachings of the faith place an emphasis on valuing life (don’t get me started on the devaluing of criminals and women that has also been a part of “tradition”). But those same teachings also tell us that surface-level action is not enough.

Jesus is furious when he chastises the religious leaders of his day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” and “you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:25, 27). On the surface, the actions of those leaders could be called “righteous,” but the truth is that the actual causes of sin and death were not being addressed, rendering such actions shallow at best.

Jesus exhorts us to “First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23:26). We are to get at the source of our iniquity and do the work of facing our darkness before we can actually hope to improve anything. This is true on a personal level, like treating the cause of addiction rather than just the symptoms. It is also true socially. As a nation, we must find what is causing our problems and deal with those first, rather than blanketing them over with inadequate arguments and decisions.

So what does this mean for those of us trying to find a good way forward with regard to this tricky abortion topic?

Simply passing legislation that just makes abortion illegal doesn’t solve anything. It merely makes some people sleep better at night. The truth is, abortion happens and has happened since humans started having children. When the clinics close, the back-alleys will be back in full swing, costing even more life. The choice isn’t whether the law stops abortion, but what kind of abortion the law is going to allow for: safe and clinical, or the kind of dangerous “procedures” that often end up killing women. That’s the current choice, politically, and simply looking to such useless legislation is not an adequate measure of preserving life.

Also, can fetuses be insured? Can child support be paid as soon as a heartbeat is found? Will a pregnant woman be entitled to all governmental and societal benefits of motherhood from that point on? Odds are the answer is no. So what this amounts to is simply telling women what to do because they are the only ones who actually have bear the consequences of what two people did. Again, this is not life-giving decision making that fully recognizes that humanity of everyone involved.

On the other hand, we don’t want there to be a ton of abortions every year. So how do we trim that down in a manner that will promote a healthier society that honors humanity and the gift of sex?

This would require economic changes, changes to healthcare and adoption protocols, access to birth-control, and evidence-based sexual education made available to all people in all places attending all schools. Ironically, it means taking the church out of sex education, because abstinence-only methods have been proven ineffective. It also means removing the stigma around sex, talking about it and the importance of having it safely, because assuming kids will stop “doing it” is a pipe dream.

For us individuals, this means contacting representatives, attending school board meetings, advocating at our children’s places of learning, and, yes, voting accordingly. We have to talk to our kids realistically and pay attention, suspending judgment. This is a lot more effort than simply voting “pro-choice” or “anti-abortion,” but hey, it takes actual effort to make any kind of a difference.

If everyone got the education, healthcare, and communal help they needed, I guarantee you abortion rates would fall and the legality of the practice would no longer be a major issue. This, in my opinion, is what it would take to truly promote life in this nation. This would be a step forward in recognizing and affirming the humanity and autonomy of women while also eliminating the need for a practice that is a concerning metric of where we are as a society.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for bearing with me and reading this post. The truth is, I belief that most of us have more in common than we do to divide us, even on a topic such as abortion. Like all other controversial topics, the answer is not in what makes us feel better, but what actually makes this situation better. Our shallow political climate, then, isn’t going to cut it. Further, slinging mud at each other and digging in our heels is also no way to be productive or kind.

It’s my prayer is that all of us, no matter what “camp” we may have settled into, will see beyond the lies and trickery of the current times. All of us have a vested interest in preserving the rights and healthcare of women. All of us have a vested interest in reducing the need for abortion. All of us have a vested interest in moving forward together. If we can recognize that and behave accordingly, we will stand a far better chance of actually choosing and promoting life.

Peace be with you!

 

 

Notice The Blurs

And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’…But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ — Luke 12:19-20, NRSV

I went for a walk this past Saturday as part of my new and improved self-care regimen. I recharge by being alone in nature, a church, or some other place or situation in which I can think, process, and just “be.” While on this walk, I looked up and saw an oncoming vehicle with an exceptionally excited dog hanging out of the window. His jowls were flapping away in the wind, and his eyes were squinted in that canine way that indicates extreme pleasure. Sadly, the car was moving too quickly for a picture, so the dandelions I saw in the park will have to do. Anyway, the sight caused laughter to burst from me in a genuine, joyful sort of way, and I realized that if I had been running, reading, or if I had decided to drive to the park, I would have missed it!

This made me think about life and how we miss so much. We trade away large portions of our lives to pursue wealth, stability, and progress. We push through more and more hours so we can get that house or car for a family we aren’t around very much. We blitz through vacations for the sake of “doing everything,” but we actually enjoy very little. We damage our relationships with God and others over opinions, practices, and institutions that are as finite as we are (which I discuss here).

Jesus addresses this non-stop pursuit of worldly things in a parable regarding “The Rich Fool.” This is a guy that spends his entire life building up more wealth and goods than he could possibly need. Hell, he had to tear down and rebuild his storage facilities just to give it all some place to sit (Luke 12:18)! Further, he appears to live by an idea that drives most of us: “And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (12:19). After all, if we just get to that mythical “next step,” we will have all we need and we can finally enjoy life, right?

Jesus says no, and I am inclined to believe that He is correct.

At the end of the parable, God tells the man, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Everything that you and I earn and possess over the course of our brief existence will go to others. The fights we “win,” the cars we drive, the houses we rent or own, the parties we vote for, even the nation in which we live will eventually all pass on in one way or another.

With that in mind, perhaps it’s time we stop going so fast. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Clarisse tells Guy, “I sometimes think drivers don’t know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see them slowly… If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he’d say, that’s grass!” Bradbury’s commentary is just as true now as it was then. In the pursuit of all the things we are told are of primary importance, we lose sight of what truly matters.

My prayer for you is that you will take time to slow down and realign with God’s will for your life, and that is that you will actually live it. God’s not concerned about our paycheck or possessions. God doesn’t care if we vote blue or red. It doesn’t bring God joy when we insist on your own way, convinced of our own rightness. God’s desires are that we connect with Him and with each other in ways that honor the gift of life.

If we decide to embrace the path of God, our priorities can realign. We can be free to love and be present with the people God has placed in our lives. We can fight for justice and peace without the pesky allegiances that cause more harm than good. We can pursue our careers and livelihoods without becoming enslaved to them. Life can be lived without always obsessing over the next step, because the current step is all we have. And with God and each other, it’s all we really need.

Peace be with you!